Dirty finger drill
Do not be afraid of going slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” Organizations of Filipino-Chinese businessmen in Davao City pegged that axiom in their newspaper ad deploring “unfortunate events in the past weeks… (These) make our resolve stronger…to move forward.”
What “unfortunate events”? Did that refer to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, on nationwide TV punching court sheriff Abe Andres for serving a demolition order on illegal settlers? “It wasn’t my best day,” rued the lady.
Davaweños feel safer with bare-knuckle enforcement, insist ads trotted out by “Inday” Sara’s green-ribboned supporters.
Filipino businessmen and Tsinoy groups were more circumspect. Their ads savor instead “a blanket of security provided by a strong leadership.”
The Supreme Court and Integrated Bar launched probes of the sherrif’s mauling. Malacañang still has to act on the swift probe concluded by Local Government Secretary Jesse Roberdo.
The Ombudsman lobbed charges by the national organization of sheriffs to its Mindanao office.
Mayor Inday Sara, meanwhile, returned to office from leave. Don’t apologize, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte counseled his daughter. He flashed a dirty finger to express his opinion of critics. Son Paul is a city councilor. Eto, he snapped, flagging a junior version of Senior’s act of defiance. “All those in favor, raise your middle finger,” bloggers wisecracked.
“This pere et fils charade evokes images of Haiti’s Papa Doc and Baby Doc,” Dr. Carolina Camara of Butuan City wrote. “Jean Claude Duvalier, who misruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986, copied Papa Doc’s tramping on human rights.”
No. Davao is not Port au Prince. Nonetheless, today’s to-and-fro in newspaper ads underscores the worrisome context: This city remains a haven for Latin American style esqudrones de la muerte.
Davao death squads rubbed out over 300 people, claims Amnesty International. Blame weak political and social institutions, a corrupt ineffective judicial system that interlocked with Ferdinand Marcos’ legacy of salvaging, witnesses told the US Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Crippled by serial scandals, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime morphed into a “paper tiger” on killings.
“The mayor of Davao City (Rodrigo Duterte) has done nothing to prevent these killings,” the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 11th session pointed out. His “public comments suggest that he is, in fact, supportive.”
“Here in Davao, you can’t go out alive,” Duterte erpat said after a notorious drug lord’s release in Manila. “You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extra-judicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there. That will no longer be extrajudicial.”
Swagger sits well with some people. “Business improved with stability,” businessmen earlier told Reuters-Dow Jones. Some whisper to the press on a “not-for-attribution” basis: we back (that is, bankroll) the “murder with a wink” policy.
About 16 percent of those “salvaged” in Davao were between 13 to 17 years of age. “Nowhere in the world is the killing of minors acceptable,” then-Human Rights Commissioner Leila de Lima told a 2009 Davao conference.
“Tell us the truth… I noticed that you looked at one another.”
But no one spoke up then. Few even cleared their throats now. The body count, meanwhile, rises. Is it 814 today? Even Duterte pere et fils, let alone daughter, can’t say how many. “If murder is forgiven, Heaven will find it hard to bear,” as a Chinese proverb puts it.
“Davao’s police hasn’t solved a single vigilante killing in over a decade,” noted Viewpoint (PDI/April 2, 2009). “That is a stunning record of failure. (It) ranks Davao alongside Sudan, Zimbabwe and Chile under Augusto Pinochet. Or is this a record of complicity?”
Consequences of such institutional corrosion spill beyond city limits. There’ve been copycat slayings elsewhere. Under Mayor Tomas Osmeña, Cebu acquired an unsavory “second stringer” reputation to Davao.
Osmeña created a “Hunter’s Squad” anddangled “P20,000 to any policeman who’d permanently disable any criminal.”
“Philantrophy wasn’t one of Osmeña’s virtues,” a Cebu daily asked. “Where would these shekels come from?”
Some businessmen chipped in. The underground grapevine claims the bulk of the funds vanished along the pipeline to motorcycle riding vigilantes who whacked even ex-cons restarting lives. The press stopped counting after 183 were gunned down. No one has been convicted.
There is a surreal “human propensity to prop up teetering positions of privilege with the pain of vulnerable people,” warned Harvard University’s Harvey Cox. Thus, some in Davao, Cebu and elsewhere share the willingness to lay down life. The lives of others, of course. Not their own. Or their children’s.
The right of ex-convicts or street kids end, they argue sub-rosa, where their pocket books begin. Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your neighbor’s life for your bank balance.
Vigilante-backers prefer to slink in the shadows. This is understandable. Those who fund, cheer or assent by silence smear blood on their hands. “There’s the smell of blood still,” Lady Macbeth wailed after murdering the king. “All the perfume in Arabia will not clean this little hand.”
Coddling killers, even for a cause, creates Frankensteins that not even mayors can’t control.
An Internet debate rages, meanwhile, on what that dirty finger drill means for our grandchildren. A blogger quotes a Chinese proverb: “To use violence is to already be defeated.”
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